Suppose, instead of finding yourself, you were to take as a goal to lose yourself, to wander, to immerse yourself, to get lost?
Losing things is easy; really getting lost in a familiar space, if you are not already, can be harder than it seems. Let me be clear: I don't mean you should set out to lose your place in the world--that's painfully, mournfully easy. All it takes is a slip in memory, an argument, a falling out of love, death. Although perhaps the line between these two sorts of loss isn't as stark as I would wish.
Here now, I've barely gotten started, and already I'm tangled up. Let me begin again, and unravel my theme as if we were going on a walk and the path was opening at our feet.
Long ago, I had a friend with whom I played this game: we set out, on foot or in her car, and wandered aimlessly, without a map. The point was to get lost if we could, to baffle ourselves, to have a hard time making out way back home to our apartments, our respective partners, our schoolwork.
We took lostness as a sort of holiday, or tried to. But getting truly lost in a small city you know well, bounded on one side by the water, with familiar hills rising in the distance--this is not so simple. Not to know the name of the road you traveled on, or where it led was one thing, but was that really being lost? Not to be able to pick your way back, to be stumped or puzzled, panicked even--that was something we never really experienced on our little voyages. Not then anyway.
Of course, we had each other and we had time--or rather, we took it, along with a longing for adventure in weeks seamed with obligations and deadlines. Every time we set out, we circled back, unwittingly, and were surprised to find ourselves on familiar streets.
Once we set out just after a rainstorm. The gutters were charged with water, each street a roaring stream. It was summer; the leaves drained water on our heads. Just before dusk we came across a trunk set out along the curb. We opened it. Inside: notebook and a small woman's garments. Handwriting in Chinese.
We kept the trunk. My friend's husband, who was ethical and meticulous in this way, tried to find the owner, but whoever had packed this trunk really was lost--to us anyway. After awhile, we scattered the trunk's contents. I do not know what happened to the notebooks, but I took and sometimes wore one of the garments, a long high-collared sleeveless red silk brocaded vest; it buttoned over my chest and fell all the way to my feet.
I left it later at a girlfriend's house in New York. We'd gotten into a bitter fight and I fled for Canada with most of my stuff, leaving just the cape folded on the shelf, as if I were a snake, shucking a past skin, a past life. Who knows, perhaps that's how the red vest came to me. It was, surely, an immigrant object.
Now, more than twenty years later, I have no idea where it is, or who has it, or where it's traveled, if anywhere. Perhaps it's in a landfill, its silk threads rotting, the red dye leaching, slowly entering the earth and groundwater.
Or perhaps someone else wears it, and dances in the night, hair wild, vest trailing behind her, as I did. My friend with whom I tried to get lost? I do not know where she is either.
The red silk window-covering was hung by Gary Markle.
Windows were photographed in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, in December 2014.